Posted: May 11, 2021

By Tom LaMarra

The eighth edition of the Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Championships Series (MATCH) begins May 14-15 at Pimlico Race Course with large, competitive fields that include more than a few local horses that figure to play a role in the outcome of the four divisions in the 2021 series.

Purses for the four MATCH stakes that are part of Preakness weekend total $650,000. They are the $250,000 Grade III Pimlico Special (3-Year-Olds and Up Long–Dirt division) and $150,000 Grade III Allaire DuPont (Filly and Mare Long–Dirt division) Friday, May 14, and the $150,000 Maryland Sprint Handicap (3-Year-Olds and Up Sprint–Dirt division) and $100,000 Runhappy Skipat (Filly and Mare Sprint–Dirt division) Saturday, May 15.

MATCH returns to the calendar this year after a one-year cancellation because of COVID-19 restrictions. Though there will be six stakes in each of four divisions this year, 20 of the 24 stakes will be run in Maryland and the other four at Colonial Downs in Virginia.

The Maryland Sprint Handicap at six furlongs has drawn Hillside Equestrian Meadows’ Laki, a local favorite and two-time MATCH divisional champion in the 3-Year-Olds and Up Sprint–Dirt division in 2018 and 2019. He has won 11 races–seven of them stakes including the Grade III Frank J. DeFrancis Memorial Dash–and in his last start, which produced a win in the Frank Whiteley Stakes at Pimlico, the 8-year-old Maryland-bred gelding by Cuba topped the $800,000 mark in earnings. Twenty-seven of Laki’s 33 starts have come in Maryland.

“He came out of his last race really well,” trainer Damon Dilodovico said. “I don’t like running him back so quickly–the Whiteley was moved back a week–but everybody is navigating these things. We’ll be able to ship up to Pimlico (from Laurel) early and train him there.

“If we could add another graded stakes to his resume that would be awesome. The horse doesn’t owe us a thing. We are fans of the MATCH Series and we hoped to have other horses for it this year but things didn’t work out.”

Horacio Karamanos, who has ridden Laki in many of his races, will have the mount.

Euro Stable’s Lebda, trained by Claudio Gonzalez, finished a half-length behind Laki in the Frank Whiteley and has settled in as a sprinter after having run long as a 3-year-old. Gonzalez, who won a MATCH Series division with the turf sprinter Completed Pass, indicated Lebda may target the local sprint stakes this year.

Entered in the Skipat, also at six furlongs, is Five Hellions Farm’s Dontletsweetfoolya, who rattled off five consecutive victories–two in stakes–at Laurel Park before a seventh-place finish in the Grade III Barbara Fritchie Stakes at Laurel in her most recent start in February. Trained by Lacey Gaudet, the 4-year-old Stay Thirsty filly who likes to run on the lead has won five of nine starts and more than $200,000.

Pennsylvania-bred Chub Wagon, owned by Danny Lopez and George Chestnut, enters the Skipat a perfect five-for-five with a total win margin of more than 31 lengths. In her last start April 27 at Parx Racing, where she is based with trainer Guadalupe Preciado, Chub Wagon won the state-restricted Unique Bella Stakes at seven furlongs by 7 1/2 lengths in her first start in stakes company. She has had the lead at every call in all five of her races.

The Allaire DuPont at 1 1/8 miles has attracted Horologist, the New Jersey-bred Horse of the Year for 2020. The multiple graded-stakes winner owned by There’s A Chance Stable, Medallion Racing, Abbondanza Racing, Parkland Thoroughbreds, Paradise Farm Corp. and David Staudacher won the Top Flight Invitational at Aqueduct Racetrack in her last start.

Allen Stable’s Mrs. Danvers and Sonata Stable’s Lucky Stride, second and third, respectively, behind Horologist in New York, will also compete in the Allaire DuPont. Lucky Stride, trained by Mike Trombetta at the Fair Hill Training Center, has done well in Maryland with a second in the Thirty Eight Go Go Stakes last November and a victory in the Nellie Morse Stakes in late February.

“Our intent is to race in the Allaire DuPont and take it from there,” Trombetta said of potential starts in future MATCH Series races. “I think she is the kind of horse that can run in more of these races, so we’ll see what happens.”

BB Horses’ Landing Zone, second to Lucky Stride in the Nellie Morse and entered in the Allaire DuPont, is one of several horses trainer Gonzalez has entered Preakness weekend that could very well could target MATCH Series events through the course of the year.

In 2020, the 1 3/16-mile Pimlico Special was run in October, and Hillwood Stables’ Maryland-bred gelding Cordmaker finished third. In the 2019 Pimlico Special, he rallied from 10th on the final turn and was a fast-closing third. Trainer Rodney Jenkins has again entered the nine-time winner of almost $600,000 in the Special.

Cordmaker in his last start went gate-to-wire in the 1 1/8-mile Harrison Johnson Memorial Stakes at Laurel in mid-March. His last two works at Pimlico at five furlongs have been the fastest of the day. All but three of his 28 starts have come in Maryland.

“His last two works were very good, he looks very good, and he feels very good,” said jockey Victor Carrasco, who was aboard for the Pimlico works and has regularly ridden Cordmaker in his races. “The Pimlico Special is not an easy race, but he’s in good form. We’re all hoping for the best. I’d like to thank Mr. Jenkins, because this horse is very special to me.”

Owners and trainers will compete for $63,000 in divisional bonuses and the overall MATCH Series champion will net $30,000 in bonuses for its owner and trainer. In addition, the Maryland Horse Breeders Association will pay a $3,000 bonus to the breeder of the top points-earning Maryland-bred and $3,000 for the top points-earning Maryland-sired horse. If the top points-earner is both Maryland-bred and -sired, the breeder would get $6,000.

After Preakness weekend, the next MATCH Series stakes will be held June 13 at Pimlico.